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Make Any Pan Shine in No Time

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What can you do with just five minutes? Actually, way more than you think! Introducing Food52 in 5: your cheat sheet for speedy, delicious recipes, fun mini projects, and more.


Nothing can stay clean forever, and that’s ok. That’s why we have soap and sponges and hands. But if you’re someone who prefers their pans on the polished end of the spectrum, there are a few things you can do to make that dream a reality, with less elbow grease (and in less time) than you might expect.

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So grab your dirtiest pan and will it scrub it to cleanliness...using some of our tried-and-true tips. Hint: Adjust your scrubbing material to your pan’s degree of dirtiness. And channel your inner Madonna because when you’re done here, everything’s going to be shiny and new.

Enameled Cast Iron

Somewhere between the fried eggs, the sautes, the simmering onions, and the grilled cheese that you left on a bit too long, that enamel finish can start to lose its luster.

  • Small smudges: If there are few brown spots, turn to the pantry for help. Baking soda is everyone’s best friend (except for the gunk that collects on enamel, that is). Make a paste of equal parts water and baking soda and give it a go with the scrubby side of a sponge. If the smudges are too stubborn, add more baking soda and water to the pan and place it over medium-high heat for a few minutes. The stains should cook right off.
  • Dirty beyond belief: If you need to call in the big guns, you’re going to need something called Bar Keeper’s Friend. It’s a cleaning polish that gets rid of…everything. It’s almost too good to be true, but also, it’s not. Because it works. Scrub it (well!) around a wet pan and you’ll see results pretty quickly.

Aluminum Baking Sheets

As for those charred aluminum baking pans, don’t fret. They may appear a little worse for wear, but that doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.

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  • Baked-on grease: To start, mix together hydrogen peroxide and baking soda until you achieve something of a paste. Using the scrubby side of a sponge, cover the pan with the paste and get to scrubbing. You should begin to see results very soon, as the two come together to exfoliate and brighten.

Glass Baking Pans and Casserole Dishes

Maybe no cooking surface makes a char, smudge or swipe more obvious than a glass baking dish. A few gos in the oven too many, and you’ll find yourself stuck with glass that looks like it was given an unfortunate tattoo.

  • Pesky brown spots: Luckily, the solution is simple. Start with baking soda and water, much as you would with an enamel cast iron. If that doesn’t work, some folks swear by a Mr Clean Sponge. If that’s still not enough, call out that old Bar Keeper’s Friend and get to work!

Cast Iron

Maybe a well-meaning dinner party guest put your cast iron skillet away without drying it, or maybe you’ve just seared one too many steaks. Whether you’re battling rust or crust, no cast iron pan is beyond saving.

  • A light lift: Conventional wisdom claims that soap is the enemy of cast iron. Well, it actually turns out that if your pan is properly seasoned, a little soap won’t hurt. In fact, it might even help. So lightly soap a sponge and give your dirty cast iron a good sudsing. If need be, you can even use the scoured side for a little extra oomph. Make sure to dry your pan, then lightly oil (buff until you don’t really see the oil) before you put it away. (If you have time, you can heat on your stovetop for a few minutes first.)
  • Crust and rust: Let’s say your pan got rusty, or the crust from whatever you cooked last is really on there good. It happens, so don’t beat yourself up. Here’s how to help: generously fill your pan with coarse salt. Grab a potato and cut it in half. Use that to scrub the salt all across that pan. (Think circular motions. Scrub that spud!) When you’re finished, rinse with water and then follow the same oiling protocol. The salt is a mild-enough abrasive that your pan’s season should still be intact, but if you’re worried about it, re-season your pan the next time your oven’s on. (And check out our tips below.) If the gunk is extra-stubborn, you can also try adding equal parts water and baking soda to the pan. Heat on medium-high heat for a few minutes and watch the smudges cook right off.
  • For a complete reseal: For heavier-duty rust, before using the above methods you’re going to scour with steel wool. After that heavy exfoliation, you’ll definitely need to fully re-season your pan. (Ok, you'll need more than five minutes for this, but it's mostly hands-off, so don't fret.) Start by heating your oven to 400°F. Oil that pan up—we’re talking inside, outside and on the handle—with any oil you have on hand (such as vegetable). Place the pan upside-down on the top rack of your oven, with a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom of the oven to catch any drips. Let it bake for around an hour. After, remove it and let it cool before putting away to store. Voila!
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Reusable Pot Scrubbers (Set of 5)

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Copper Cookware

Ah, copper, the stallion of kitchen cookware. It’s shiny and bold and not as hard to maintain as you might expect. If you’ve got a minute, here's how to take care of that tarnish.

  • Tiny tarnish: For a blemish on the smaller side, all you need is slice of lemon and some salt. Sprinkle some salt on the pan and rub it around with a slice, or a half, of a lemon. It’s abrasive and freshening and should do away with that smudge.
  • Medium mark: If the lemon doesn’t work, make a simple solution out of equal parts baking soda and lemon juice. Using a washcloth, rub the solution across your copper.
  • If all else fails: This one’s weird, but it works: Cover your copper with tomato paste and let it sit for a minute or two. The acid in tomatoes is tough on tarnish. If all you have on hand is ketchup, that'll do, too.

How do you make something shine in no time? Tell us your tricks in the comments.

Tags: Home Hacks, Back to Basics